R8’d highly: VB&P’s Super Bowl spot for Audi works on dual demos

Adweek cited Venables Bell & Partners' ad for the Audi R8 as one of the best spots in last night’s big Advertising Championship Game. 

This spot has a 94% positive rating on iSpot.tv. It's not an accident that the soundtrack ― from David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album ― was released in 1972. That was when the people right in the middle of the Baby Boom were coming of age. (Advertising Championship action was broken up by the National Football League, which bought a lot of time which it used to show off the sport of football, in between the ads. Unfortunately for the NFL, it wasn’t a particularly good game.)

Audi's commercial was not just a solid effort, it also worked effectively across the age range of R8 buyers. Here’s why...

First, let’s look at R8 demographics... 

According to a 2011 RL Polk survey, the average age of Audi owners was 49. In the intervening five years, the average age of new car buyers has, if anything, increased. (In 2015, according to a study conducted by NADA, the average new car buyer was 51.7.)

What about the age of buyers for the $115,000-plus R8 model? 

Audi isn’t sharing numbers with me, but I’d be surprised if the median age of R8 buyers is under the brand average. There is an R8talk.com forum ― which is almost certainly a selective filter for younger owners. I found a thread there, in which R8 owners listed their ages. In that small sample of 27 respondents, 8 were over 50; the oldest was 65.

Worth noting: I’ve also seen quite a bit of anecdotal and/or statistically incomplete evidence to suggest that Audi is one of the luxury brands that has done the best job of targeting Millennials.  That goes a long way towards justifying the premise of VB&P’s creative, which is that the Millennial R8-owning son comes to visit his ex-astronaut dad, and gives him a spin in a vehicle that makes dad feel young again.

Why it's good...

I bet it tested gangbusters with 30- and younger 40-something guys who still wrestle with parental expectations! (Note: the actor portraying the son is Gunner Wright, who is technically a young Gen-Xer, on the cusp of being a leading-edge Millennial.)

What about Baby Boomers? Does the ad also work for them? After all, from one perspective the dad's crap evening is only rescued by the arrival of his kid in a new sports car. The old guy literally seems to have lost his appetite for life. Hardly an uplifting image.

But as always, execution is everything. They cast an actor who’s height-weight proportional, and who doesn’t particularly walk like to the car like an old man. And, to be fair, he was an ex-astronaut. Retired life probably really is a bit boring, by comparison.

This is not a guy who other old guys are going to read as pathetic. It’s a guy who other old guys are going to read as an ex-hero, of a type that hardly exists any more. The Apollo program ― the heroic period of American space exploration ― ended in 1972. So the actual astronauts were not Baby Boomers, which also gives people like me just enough emotional distance from the father figure and his pathos... while still maintaining enough relate-ability to connect, at least, with the idea that we came of age in a different (and better) time.

When that old guy ― a guy I can relate to, but who is even older than me ― reconnects with those lost feelings in the R8, it makes millions of Baby Boomers think, at least for a moment, maybe I could do that too. And it was all done without ever suggesting anything about an embarrassing mid-life crisis.

For the Millennial Audi-driver, it’s a hard-won validation. Audis really are aspirational targets for a lot of Millennials, and this spot while nominally touting the R8 clearly has to carry an overarching brand message (Audi can’t sell enough R8 models to justify the cost.) But VB&P skillfully layered in a recapturing-lost-youth message that will not be lost on the 50% of Audi buyers who are closer in age to that ex-astronaut than they are to his son.